On a warm August day، the world’s most famous boulevard، the Champs-Elysées، is heaving، the guardian reported.
Li-na and Zhangli from Shanghai، laden with bags from designer stores، are here to go shopping، while James from Illinois wants to climb the Arc de Triomphe.
“I’ve already done the Eiffel Tower، Sacré Coeur and Notre Dame،” he says. “Tomorrow it’s Versailles.” Bernard، from neighbouring Belgium، is in the French capital for a short break “because it’s beautiful and not far by train”.
In the tree-lined street’s grand flagship stores and myriad eateries you can almost hear the collective sigh of relief: after a “catastrophic” 2016 for tourism following a series of terrorist attacks in France، the visitors are back – and in record numbers.
According to figures for the first half of 2017، released this week by the Regional Tourism Committee (CRT)، the number of people making a trip to the French capital and surrounding Île de France region has hit a 10-year high. Paris region hoteliers registered 16 million guests، the highest number for the same period in the past decade. Visitors to the city and Île-de-France region rose by 14.6%، and increased by 6.4% in other parts of France.
Despite a spate of robberies targeting Asian tourists that led to an offer from the Chinese police to patrol the city in 2014، Japanese visitors increased by 40.5% and Chinese by 29.5%.
About 1.14 million Americans also came، an increase of 20% on the previous year، as well as more Germans and Spaniards. While Paris remains popular with the British، their number dropped by 1.7% in the first half of this year. “No doubt due to the uncertainties around Brexit،” tourism officials reported.
The CRT added that provisional figures for the summer confirmed the rise. Visitor numbers for all the major attractions in the city including the Arc de Triomphe and the Tour Montparnasse، and those outside، namely the châteaux at Vincennes، Versailles and Fontainebleau، had all risen.
Frédéric Valletoux، CRT president، said strong visitor figures in July and August as well as bookings for September led tourism officials to believe there could be a record 32-34 million visitors this year، compared with 30 million last year، and tourist spending could top the previous €21bn (£19bn) high of 2015.
“The signals have clearly turned green for the tourism industry in Paris and the Île de France،” he said.
Last year، tourists shunned Paris after a series of terrorist attacks in 2015 that began with shootings at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in January، and ended with the November massacre of concertgoers at the Bataclan and gun attacks on bars and restaurants across the city that left 130 people dead.
In July last year، the French Rivièra town of Nice was attacked during a Bastille Day celebration. A series of worker strikes and gloomy weather also played a role in driving visitors away، Valletoux told a news conference on Tuesday.
The French government launched a €10m campaign with Paris and Île de France authorities in January to woo tourists back to the capital. The campaign was aimed at countering what they called “false and negative images” of the city after the terrorist attacks.
Didier Arino، director of the tourism consultancy Protourism، said the campaign had been a success for Paris and its region. Arino said visitors were also reassured by French troops patrolling the streets as part of Operation Sentinelle، introduced after the 2015 attacks.
“Of course، Paris is a place of people’s dreams، which helps، but there has also been an improvement in the quality of services; hotels، particularly high class ones، have undergone renovations; and prices have dropped،” Arino added.
He also put the rise down to a “certain solidarity” with France among “anti-Trump American intellectuals” after the US president told a Maryland convention that he had a friend who does not visit France any more because of the terrorist attacks saying: “Paris is no longer Paris”.
The French president، Emmanuel Macron، succeeded in bringing Donald Trump to Paris in July، in part to show that the capital was not the “out of control” and “dangerous” place he had described، but welcoming and open for business.
The latest visitor figures came as good news for the French، whose economy is already showing signs of emerging from nine-year doldrums. Tourism chiefs hope the trend will continue with the confirmation of Paris as host of the 2024 Olympic Games expected next month.
Back on the Champs Elysées، terror was far from the minds of tourists the Guardian spoke to. Not even the impending storms could dampen Li-na and Zhangli’s enthusiasm for the French capital.
“If it rains we will stay in the shop or go to a cafe،” said Li-na smiling.